By Sarah Bennett
‘Amazing landscapes’, ‘breathtaking scenery’ and ‘stunning vistas’ are all well and good, but this country deserves better than being judged on its looks alone. So why not saddle up this summer and cycle one of the New Zealand Cycle Trail’s 22 Great Rides, which take you deeper into some of its most special places and share ripping yarns from days gone by.
1. Deep forest on the Timber Trail
Close to Taumaranui and Taupō, up-and-coming Pureora Forest Park has many fascinating stories to tell about the timber-millers and the environmentalists that finally silenced their saws. The Timber Trail is an immensely rewarding way to recap the facts.
At 84 kilometres long, it is a two-day ride best suited to intermediate mountain bikers, but DOC’s Pureora and Piropiro campsites are bushy bases for shorter, easier and family-friendly adventures taking in ancient forest, rusty relics, flowing single track, and whoo-hoo!-inducing suspension bridges.
Interpretation panels explain the park’s unique ecology, human history, and the peculiar Ongarue railway spiral, the merits of which may well be lost on everyone except granddad.
2. Otago Central’s recycled railway
I’m as sorry as the next gal to see the railways go, but one silver lining is surely the proliferation of cycle trails along disused lines.
The original great railway ride is the Otago Central, a 150 kilometre cruise from Clyde to Middlemarch, commonly completed in 3–4 days. It’s really easy, however, to divvy it up into return rides and loops of various lengths, which makes it the perfect hook for a summer cycling holiday.
There’s something for everyone on and off the trail, starting with heaps of delicious food and drink – pies, wine and stone fruit among local specialities. For history buffs there are heritage buildings, notable bridges, goldfield sites, and the amazing Hayes Engineering Works that may as well be Mars for anyone too young to have lived on planet analogue. There’s plenty more mountain biking nearby too, including the awesome Flat Top Hill, Roxburgh Gorge and Clutha Gold trails, all accessible from Alexandra.
3. Around, up and under the Mountains to Sea
There’s a frisson of excitement to be had from holidaying beside an active volcano, don’t you think? All those steaming craters, smoking vents and crazy coloured silica terraces… If you’re looking for instant geological gratification, then Tongariro National Park’s the place to be.
But there’s so much more to the volcanic plateau, and summer’s a fabulous time to explore it. Among many memorable adventures are stand-up paddle boarding on Lake Otamangakau (New Zealand’s only alpine stand-up paddle boarding experience, no less), and swooshing up the Ruapehu chairlift to the rather impressive Knoll Ridge Café – New Zealand’s highest at 2,020 metres above sea-level.
There’s marvelous mountain bike trails around here, too, such as the first sections of the Mountains to Sea. Downhill hooners will drool over the Turoa Road section, while the Ohakune Old Coach Road leg offers one of the area’s most memorable day trips. An easy to intermediate 15 kilometre ride (or walk) around the lower flanks of Mt Ruapehu, it recounts all sorts of interesting stories and encounters hobbit-worthy forest and a record-breaking railway viaduct.
4. Journey back in time on the West Coast Wilderness Trail
If you’ve read this far you’ll have seen a pattern emerging – 3 ft 6 in wide, with gentle inclines and often bonny railway stations.
One of the latest and greatest railway recyclers is the West Coast Wilderness Trail, which follows an old line for a chunk of its 132 easy kilometres between Greymouth and Ross. It’s a first-class way to immerse yourself in the coast’s wild side, but it’s also a ticket to ride through the region’s history.
Among its many highlights are Greymouth’s dramatic breakwater and boat harbour, Shantytown, the gloriously restored Kumara Hotel, Lake Kaniere’s water race, Hokitika’s pounamu and gold studios, the Mananui bush tramline, and Ross’s historic goldfields and the inimitable Empire Hotel.
This trail is a real journey of discovery taking around four days in all. Easy access points and ample accommodation make it easy to base yourself in one place and do day trips, along with road-trip detours to must-dos like Hokitika Gorge and Punakaiki.
Follow Bennett & Slater’s adventures on Instagram @TeamBenter.